Everything you need to know about Strictly Come Dancing's head judge Shirley Ballas

The 'Queen of Latin' joined the show in 2017

Shirley Ballas is back on our screens as the head judge of Strictly Come Dancing, having stepped into Len Goodman's shoes in 2017.

Shirley, 61, has the power to give the casting vote in the dance-offs. She impressed BBC bosses with her vast experience as a dance coach and her work on hit US show Dancing with the Stars. Plus, fans have praised her for her honest but fair feedback to contestants.

MORE: Strictly judge Shirley Ballas breaks silence on 2021 celebrity line-up 

So, what exactly do we know about the 'Queen of Latin'?

When did Shirley join Strictly Come Dancing?

This year marks the professional dancer's fifth year on the show after she replaced Len Goodman in 2017.

Loading the player...

WATCH: Strictly's Shirley Ballas talks celeb lineup

She's reprising her role alongside fellow returning judges Motsi Mabuse and Craig Revel-Horwood, and former pro dancer Anton Du Beke, who will be sitting in for Bruno Tonioli this series while the Italian judges Dancing with the Stars in America.

What kind of judge is Shirley?

As head judge, Shirley has the power to give the casting vote in the dance-offs. Speaking to HELLO!, she said: "My critiques will always remain firm. I will say it as I see it, though you can't help but get emotionally attached to the couples." 

Before she joined the show in 2017, Shirley said: "It's all about the four F's; fun, firm, feisty and fair. I may look and come across as quite strict, but I want the celebrities to know that when they are stood in front of me my heart will be pumping a thousand miles an hour for them in that moment and I'll want to give them comments to inspire them.

Shirley is nicknamed the 'Queen of Latin'

"But saying that I can also be strict. If I ask them to do something and they don't deliver it the following week I'm not going to tell them that it's ok, I'm not that kind of judge. I will be expecting things from them and I hope that they will be expecting things from me, to be as honest and as forthright as I can to help them become the best dancer they can be."

What is Shirley's dance experience?

Originally from Merseyside, Shirley began dancing at the age of seven when she took her first lesson in a local hall. She began competitively dancing aged eight, and when she was 15, Shirley moved to North Yorkshire to compete with British ballroom champion, Nigel Tiffany. The pair got engaged when Shirley was 16, but never ended up marrying.

SEE: Strictly's Shirley Ballas shares her thoughts on Anton Du Beke's new gig for the first time

MORE: Shirley Ballas talks Bruno Tonioli's return to Strictly Come Dancing

Shirley specialises in Latin dance, earning her the nickname the 'Queen of Latin'. "I love ballroom dance, my favourite style being the Argentine Tango. I also love the Viennese Waltz and the way it can be done the American style where it breaks apart. But of course my heart lies with Latin, I love the Latin," she said.

Shirley with fellow judge Motsi Mabuse

Shirley retired from competitive dancing in 1996. She is a three-time British Open to the World Latin American champion, ten-time United States Latin American champion, and multiple-times British National champion. Shirley, who says she was "born to dance", is now an acclaimed and respected international coach as well as an adjudicator for ballroom and Latin American competitions, judging all around the world.

What is Shirley's TV experience?

Shirley has previously appeared on Dancing with the Stars in the US, giving masterclass lessons and commentating on the show. But her big TV debut in the UK was Strictly, which she is a huge fan of.

"When I was told the news, I did actually fall to my knees, I couldn't believe it!" said Shirley. "The first person I called was my son, Mark, and as soon as he answered he said, 'You got it didn't you?' I didn't even have to say it out loud! Mark was the one who had encouraged me, he always said 'You can do this' and 'It's going to be an amazing journey'." Shirley added: "I find the show so inspiring. There could be young or old people out there who are watching and they will also be inspired to take up dancing and I find that so special."

Shirley is head judge on Strictly Come Dancing

Speaking to HELLO! about those first months as a judge, she said: "Strictly was my first job in TV ever. Mark called me every day for those four months, and he and [DWTS judge] Derek Hough were brilliant at helping me deal with some of the more challenging aspects of being in the press. I've had my trust knocked more than a few times. For every stride you take forward, there's always someone who wants to push you a stride back, and that part was difficult to deal with. But if you have a core of great people who you can truly lean on, that makes it easier."

Is Shirley married?

The dancer married Sammy Stopford, her dance partner at the time, in 1980 but later divorced him in 1984. A year later in 1985, she married ballroom dancer Corky Ballas. Together they won the International Latin American Dance Championship in 1995, which Shirley describes as one of her "proudest dance moments". Shirley and Corky have a son Mark, 31, who is a professional on Dancing with the Stars. "Aside from dancing, the biggest and proudest moment of my whole entire life was when my son Mark was born," she said. The couple divorced in 2007. 

The pro dancer with judges Craig, Motsi and Anton

The dancer previously opened up about her hopes of finding love. "I haven't had a boyfriend for a long time," she told HELLO!. "I do believe it will happen. I don't know when or where, but I would love to be in love again." Speaking about the dating scene in Hollywood, she added: "The men here seem perfectly charming, but everybody is super busy. If it's good-looking men you're after, the place to go is Italy. Every Italian I've ever come across is handsome."

Ultimately, though, she said she was on the lookout for someone "nice and kind and caring". She said: "I know my mum would like to see me with someone who looks out for me and treats me with kindness and respect."

Shirley with her only son Mark

Who is Shirley's boyfriend?

In January 2019, Shirley revealed that she had met "someone special". She was talking about actor Danny Taylor, who she met when they starred together in the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk in 2018. 

Speaking to HELLO! in their first joint interview and photoshoot last year, Shirley and Danny opened up about their relationship, with the actor singing his partner's praises. "She has changed my life by giving me more stability, which is something I've always needed," he said. 

"I feel happy and content. It's all these different things that feel correct and right. I need foundation and I have that with Shirley. It's something I haven't had for some time."

The dancer was equally complimentary about her beau, saying: "He always shows me unconditional love, whether it's a good day, a bad day, a rainy day, a sunny day. He is very supportive, very kind and extremely loving."

When asked whether their relationship was serious, Shirley laughed: "A hundred and fifty percent serious! We have a lot in common and we laugh all the time. He is part of the reason why I readjusted my life. My son is grown up and has his own life, and Danny is just so magnificently special. I have met his parents and everybody likes each other. That's a plus."

The TV judge with her boyfriend Danny Taylor

She added: "I think my happiness is largely down to Danny, although Strictly has also given me the confidence that I didn't always have before. I think the energy Danny gives off is infectious. He makes me see things in a different light and he makes me laugh all the time. I go to bed with a grin and I wake up with a grin."

Commenting about whether they might get married, Danny replied:  "I think marriage is an amazing institution and I really like the idea of committing to someone for the rest of your life, through sickness and in health."

"We don't have a problem that people are speculating about when we'll get engaged, but watch this space," Shirley added.

What has Shirley said about her health?

Speaking to HELLO! in 2019, the Strictly judge revealed her plans to have her breast implants removed. Her mother Audrey is battling colon cancer, which led Shirley to contemplate her own health. While filming an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? for the BBC, she learned that her great-grandfather George died of cancer in his 30s. In addition, one of her aunts died of the disease. As a result, she decided to have her breast implants removed after 17 years. 

"I definitely want to take my implants out. When I had a mammogram recently, the lady said it's impossible to get a complete image with implants. Plus, some things that I sometimes suffer from, like chronic fatigue, can be caused by them," she said. "But I want to make clear that it's something I want to do for myself. Everyone has their own choices, and this is one I have made for myself." 

Writing for HELLO! at the time, the star confirmed she would return to Strictly just days after her operation, saying: "I'm not a person who misses work."

Shirley revealed she is having her breast implants removed

Where does Shirley live?

The dancer relocated back to the UK for Strictly, and moved into a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house in south-east London in 2019. Shirley was previously based in California where her son Mark lived ten minutes away from her in Hollywood. The TV star invited HELLO! into her home in 2019, saying: "It's lovely to have my own home here. For the past two years while filming Strictly I have stayed with my friend Terrie Martin, which I was truly grateful for, but I didn't want to keep imposing."

She added: "When I got the Strictly job it made sense to come back to England. It was quite difficult to commute back and forth, and I really wanted to build my charity work. I simply can't do that if I am on the other side of the world."

Shirley had rented out her London property, which has a contemporary design with vintage touches, while living in LA and decided to redo every inch before moving back in. One of her favourite features is a walk-in wardrobe full of her glitzy Strictly outfits in what was the attic. She says: "I love that everyone has their own bathroom and nobody's on top of each other. I like the openness of the layout."

A peek inside Shirley's London home

Another reason she left LA was the realisation that her son Mark now has his own life to lead. "When I moved to LA I was single and didn't want to be on my own. But everyone goes on to have their own life, and Mark got married. In the end I thought I might as well base myself here. Plus, I have many friends here.

MORE: Shirley Ballas gives huge update on Strictly Come Dancing 2021

"I didn't overly have friends in LA. I would work and come home and watch television. I don't think I have watched television since I have come back. I have got a new man and Strictly and my mother, who is a handful," she laughs. "I think I am going to be much happier here."

Like this story? Sign up to our newsletter to get other stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.